The real story behind Tammy Faye’s eyes


Tammy Faye’s eyes, a 2021 film by Michael Showalter, tells the story of Tammy Faye Bakker, an American televangelist known for her larger-than-life personality and heart for humanity. The film is based on a documentary of the same name released in 2001, with Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato directing the original. This year, Jessica Chastain won an Oscar for her portrayal of Tammy Faye in Tammy Faye’s eyes, many of which agree to be some of his finest acting work. She wore intricate prosthetic pieces and spent hours in the hair and makeup chair to capture the essence of the 80s televangelism icon in her performance. While the film has again revealed Tammy Faye’s name since its peak and fall in the 80s, there seems to be mixed feelings in many directions as to whether the film captured his life and times precisely.


A review from the Guardian calls the film “a disappointing biopic of a queer icon,” speaking to Tammy Faye’s continued influence on LGBTQIA+ culture since her early days as a cultural figure. She is often remembered for her willingness to interview AIDS patients, her stunning musical soundtracks and her sparkling pixelated image on her television programs. The real Tammy Faye was indeed a complex woman with a lively and bright attitude, who ultimately shined her light to those who needed her positivity the most. Let’s take a look at the true story of his life, which left a legacy to communities in need and exemplified unconditional love through his advocacy, his work and his being.

Tammy Faye’s Rise to Stardom

Born Tamara Faye LaValley, Tammy Faye was always a light who refused to hide under a bushel. She grew up in International Falls, Minnesota as the only child from her mother’s previous marriage, as well as the eldest of eight children. Her parents were Pentecostal pastors, so she grew up in a close-knit Christian community. According an interview with the Washington Post“His mother was a religious woman, but since her divorce she was an outcast in their small Pentecostal community. Most notably, she was not allowed to play the piano or sing in church – because of his sins.”

Despite this, Tammy Faye took it upon herself to shake up the church from an early age. As a child, Tammy Faye was imbued with the soul of the American church in the Midwest and perhaps the Holy Spirit itself, as she says she was able to speak in tongues when she was young. She took that inner fire with her growing up, deciding to pursue an education at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis.

Televangelism with Jim Bakker

At North Central Bible College, Tammy Faye crossed paths with the ultimately disreputable Jim Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield in Tammy Faye’s eyes) for the first time. According to the New York Times, “he proposed to her on their first date, and they married in 1961.” The two were an inseparable team, ready to jump headfirst into full-time traveling ministry together once they realized married couples were not welcome at Bible college at the time. They moved to the East Coast after the birth of their two children to amplify their work and make their way into the television business.

Traveling from South Carolina to North Carolina to Virginia, the Bakkers caused a stir on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) with their children’s ministry programs on the air. Finally, their show The PTL-Club (short for Praise The Lord) was born, which ran for 14 seasons, cementing their influence in the realm of televangelism and devotion to preaching the prosperity gospel. At the height of their fame, Tammy Faye and Jim were household names in evangelical and secular circles. The family image the Bakkers championed in their scintillating programs was complemented by Tammy Faye’s signature soulful vocals and jaw-dropping makeup.

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Tammy Faye’s plea

To this day, Tammy Faye is fondly remembered in LGBTQIA+ circles and embraced as something of a patron saint. This is due to his unforgettable advocacy for the community and for speaking out about the controversial issues they have faced on air. At a time when these topics were generally considered taboo and mostly untouched by the Christian community, Tammy Faye was not afraid to speak out on behalf of the vulnerable and amplify their voices as best she could.

Tammy Faye’s eyes captures a real interview Tammy Faye conducted with Steve Pieters (played by Randy Havens), a gay pastor who was dealing with AIDS and HIV in 1985. Pieters was undergoing chemotherapy, so the interview was done virtually, with the stream video of Pieters put up on a TV in front of Tammy Faye. According to NBC NewsTammy Faye said: “And how sad that we Christians, who are to be the salt of the earth, and we who are supposed to be able to love everyone, are so afraid of an AIDS patient that we won’t. come up and put our arm around them, and show them that we care?”

The fall of Bakkers from Grace

Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker’s story wouldn’t be complete without their unfortunate rise and fall of the televangelism empire they created together. PTL had turned its ministry into a million dollar industry, spawning its own South Carolina theme park, Heritage USA – often called Disney’s Christian counterpart. Business continued to boom for the Bakkers until they began to fall apart separately.

In 1987, Tammy Faye developed a problem with prescription pills and was in the early stages of addiction. At the same time, Jim was facing sexual assault charges brought against him by Jessica Hahn – it was discovered that Jim had paid her off and encouraged her silence with PTL money. This triggered the collapse of everything for the Bakkers, who ceded control of their operations to Jerry Falwell. According to ABC News, Jim was sent to prison for fraud and conspiracy after his other shady dealings came to light, and Tammy divorced and remarried Heritage USA entrepreneur Roe Messner. Tammy Faye Messner was a new woman, determined to reclaim her reputation and let her light shine again.

As the past faded into her rearview mirror, Tammy Faye reappeared in the national conversation. Despite being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996, she resumed making appearances in print and television and was determined to spread love and light for as long as she could. She was featured on The Drew Carey Show and on surreal life. She has remained a staunch ally of the LGBTQIA+ community and collaborated with RuPaul on the 2000 Tammy Faye’s eyes documentary, which helped her public image re-emerge as a more positive image. She could often be found at pride parades across the United States and always remained strong in her Christian faith and doctrine of unconditional love to the end.

Sadly, her battle with cancer ended in 2007 after it spread to her lungs. She stopped her treatments and died two months later. The legacy that Tammy Faye Messner still leaves, marked by poignant media pieces like Tammy Faye’s eyes, remember her as a living example of God’s love. “She preferred grandiose wigs, leopard-polka dot pantsuits, and stiletto heels (she was 4-foot-10 without them). Her long false eyelashes pointed forward in an over-the-top homage to Lucille Ball, her first idol.” , according his Washington Post obituary.


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